Olympic Running Events (IV): 1500 m with Süreyya Ayhan
This race for gold could well be very close. In contrast to the 800 metres there is no big favourite in the 1500 women’s. A year ago one would probably have tended to say that Süreyya Ayhan would be the number one favourite. But then the Turkish runner, who had surprisingly won the European Championship in 2002, lost the World Championships final to Tatiana Tomasova of Russia.
This time Russia will again have potential winners in the race. But it could also happen that Süreyya Ayhan will suddenly face strong opposition from another Turkish runner. Not long ago Turkey used to be a no man’s land in international athletics. Meanwhile the Turkish even have a world record holder. And it is not Süreyya Ayhan. It was Elvan Abeylegesse, who ran a world record at 5,000 metres at the Golden League in Bergen. Abeylegesse, who originally comes from Turkey, could well start at the 1,500 metres as well. So there could be a superb Turkish duel at the distance in Athens. Because it was Abeylegesse who surprised with a new personal best for the 1,500 metres of 3:58,28 minutes early in the season. With this time she leads the world lists at the distance. And who knows: perhaps Maria Mutola really goes for the double. The runner from Mozambique is the big favourite at 800 metres. But the timetable makes it possible to try a double.
SÜREYYA AYHAN – A NATIONAL HERO IN TURKEY
At the European Championships in Munich 2002 Süreyya Ayhan wrote a piece of Turkish sports history. She became the first Turkish gold medal winner of an European Championship in athletics. “You could offer me the whole world – I would always prefer this gold medal”, she said. With her famous win she became the most popular sports person in Turkey. In a very close finish she had beaten the big favourite Gabriela Szabo (Romania). And clocking 3:58,79 minutes she achieved a world leading time in 2002. This came as a very big surprise because Süreyya Ayhan had not run a single race for more than a year. At the World Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she had finished eighth.
A year later there were huge Turkish expectations on the day of the 1,500 m final at the World Championships in Paris. In a number of Turkish cities video screens were put up to allow people to watch the race. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan even flew to Paris for this single race. But he did not get what he had come for. Süreyya Ayhan did not win but finished second. Before heading on to Berlin for a political meeting Erdogan said: “I am sure that she will win at the Olympic Games next year in Athens.”
The 25 year-old sports student lives in a Turkish high altitude training camp. The village is called Erzurum and has an altitude of 2,200 metres. Ayhan has meanwhile married her long term coach Yucel Kop who used to be a cross country skier in former years.
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